|the dangers of binding mandatory arbitration (bma) clauses|
what began as a noble concept -- using arbitration instead of the courts to settle many disputes -- has developed into a grossly unfair commercial justice system.
in a three-part series that concluded tuesday, chronicle staff writer reynolds holding provided compelling evidence of serious problems in a system of mandatory arbitration that has become dominated by corporate interests.
the series showed case after case in which workers and consumers with legitimate grievances had no chance of getting a fair remedy in arbitration. it spelled out how "arbitration agreements" in small type often force californians to give away significant legal rights as a condition of getting a job, obtaining medical treatment or even buying something as simple as long- distance phone service.
while we generally like the idea
of reducing costly lawsuits, the shift to arbitration at this magnitude
-- and with its lack of basic rules -- has come at a severe price to
the concepts of justice and fair play.
in plain terms, the arbitration system stacks the deck in favor of corporations.
and they are determined to keep it that way.
even modest attempts to reform the arbitration system encounter stiff opposition in sacramento and washington. the reason is no mystery. the big corporations -- who have the coziest relationships with arbitrators -- also have the most clout in the capitals. they invest heavily in campaign contributions and lobbying fees, and defeat of any sort of worker or consumer rights measure is a perennial priority.
an example is state sen. martha escutia's sb458, which would keep hmos from forcing patients into mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of coverage. california is among the few states that allow hmos to impose such clauses. escutia, d-whittier, steered her bill through the senate, 21-14, but it stalled in the assembly, where a bloc of self-proclaimed "business democrats" has been extremely hostile to consumer issues this session. escutia hopes to revive her bill next year.
similarly, state sen. sheila kuehl, d-santa monica, proposed sb410 to prohibit employers from forcing workers into arbitration agreements as a condition of hiring or continued employment. her bill ran into fierce resistance -- most notably, an implied veto threat from gov. gray davis -- and she withdrew it from consideration until next year.
will the climate for arbitration reform be any different next year? not likely, unless californians send a strong message to the governor and their legislators that workers and consumers deserve a level playing field when they bring grievances against corporations.
if the arbitration system really were fair, then hmos and other companies would have nothing to fear about making it voluntary.
right now, they're having their way, at the expense of your legal rights.
more arbitration related articles from the san francisco chronicle:
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